Theresa May: ‘The Next Seven Days Are Critical’

LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday that she would hold more talks in Brussels this week over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union while she battles twin threats at home: a possible no-confidence vote on her leadership and new resignations from her fractious cabinet.

Mrs. May faces a perilous few days after her draft agreement provoked two cabinet resignations and such widespread objections from lawmakers of all political persuasions that the document looks unlikely to win Parliament’s approval.

“This isn’t about me,” Mrs. May said on Sky News. “This is about the national interest. The next seven days are critical.”

Since Britons voted in 2016 to quit the European Union, Mrs. May’s Conservative Party has been split between those who want to keep close economic ties with the bloc and a more hard-line faction that wants a clean break.

But since an agreement on a draft deal on the process known as Brexit was announced, those arguments have exploded in public, leaving the government in disarray, Parliament seemingly deadlocked and the future uncertain after March 29, when Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union.

Mrs. May said that she planned to visit the Belgium capital this week, before a summit meeting of European Union leaders on Nov. 25 that was called to discuss the draft plan.

Mrs. May dug deep in her television interview, as she has so often done during the Brexit saga, insisting that she will not be deflected from her strategy.

“A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier, and it’s not going to change the parliamentary arithmetic,” she said. “What it will do is mean there is a delay to those negotiations and that’s a risk that Brexit gets delayed or frustrated.”

A group of pro-Brexit cabinet ministers is pressing for a variety of changes that they hint will decide whether they can stay in the cabinet and support the deal.

In reality, Mrs. May is unlikely to secure any concessions that address her critics’ main fear: that Britain could be tied indefinitely to European Union rules over which it has no influence and no clear escape route.

Yet further negotiations may at least buy her time to tamp down the crisis and produce promises for a longer-term trade plan that may be more palatable for hard-line Brexit supporters.

Also speaking on Sky News on Sunday, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, appeared to soften his personal opposition to the idea of holding another referendum on the terms of an exit deal, including the option to remain.

A second referendum was “an option for the future, but it’s not an option for today,” said Mr. Corbyn, who opposes Mrs. May’s plan.

His colleague Keir Starmer told The Observer newspaper that Labour would try to pass a law in Parliament to make it impossible to leave the bloc without a deal.

“If the prime minister’s deal is rejected — and that’s looking increasingly likely — Parliament will not just sit back and allow her to proceed,” Mr. Starmer said.

The immediate focus in Westminster, however, is on whether Mrs. May can keep her post. Hard-line Brexit supporters within the Conservative Party believe that they will soon have the 48 letters required to hold a no-confidence motion.

As the process is conducted in private, the only person who knows how close they are is Graham Brady, the chairman of the committee that oversees the election of Conservative Party leaders. He told the BBC that the threshold had not been met, but would not say exactly how many letters have come in, adding that he had not even shared that information with his wife.

Even if Mrs. May’s critics muster the number to force the vote, her supporters believe she could survive because her enemies do not agree on a successor and would have to persuade a majority of the 315 Conservative lawmakers to oust her.

But she also has trouble in her cabinet, where her draft withdrawal agreement has been criticized by several ministers. Two have resigned so far, including Dominic Raab, the chief Brexit negotiator. If more cabinet ministers quit, it would raise further questions about Mrs. May’s ability to carry on.

When she travels to Brussels, Mrs. May is unlikely to secure any significant changes to the terms of the draft agreement. These include Britain’s fee for leaving the union, the rights of European Union citizens living in Britain and vice versa, and plans to prevent physical checks at the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which will remain in the European Union.

European officials have made it clear that they are in no mood to reopen the withdrawal agreement, but there is scope for negotiation over a vaguer, nonbinding agreement on long-term trade — something that Mrs. May could use to win over critics.

For now, there seems to be agreement on only one thing: A crucial moment is approaching for Britain.

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Hundreds of Thousands in France Protest Taxes by Blocking Roads

ÉRAGNY, France — More than a quarter-million people across France joined protests on Saturday against planned hikes in gas taxes. Drivers blocked roundabouts, highway access roads and intersections.

The demonstrations have harnessed a broader discontent with high taxes and, for some, the policies of President Emmanuel Macron.

Most of the 2,000 demonstrations were in the suburbs, exurbs and rural areas of France where people rely on their cars to go to work, visit the doctor and do their grocery shopping. Some protesters also blocked access to border crossings.

In Paris, some 1,200 demonstrators almost reached the Elysée, the presidential residence, where they shouted, “Macron quit,” and blocked the Champs-Élysées.

That hostile tone, though, was not evident in most small towns and suburban areas.

“We are not political people; we do not belong to a union, we are citizens,” said Didier Lacombe, a retiree who lives on a fixed income near Éragny, a small town about an hour west of Paris.

“The taxes are rising on everything. They put taxes on top of taxes,” said Mr. Lacombe, as he and his wife prepared to join what has come to be known as the “Yellow Vests” protest after the vests that are required in French cars and that were worn by the demonstrators.

“It is not the tax on gas, it’s everything. The injustice is greater and greater,” he said.

The protesters, whose movement coalesced rapidly over the last six to eight weeks through social media, have grown quickly in numbers. While the demonstrations were no larger than those organized by unions who object to labor reforms, they were strikingly consistent, given the distance between gatherings, which reached from the Mediterranean coast to the northern industrial areas of the country.

Most of the protests were orderly, though one person was killed and more than 200 were injured in accidents or altercations around the country, according to the Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner.

The demonstrations are unlike some past protests that pressed for higher salaries. Now, people are seeking a reduction in the gas tax as well as expressing frustration with payroll taxes, which are used for social services like health care and social security, said Alexis Spire, a senior researcher in sociology at the National Center for Scientific Research, a government research agency.

The French taxes, known as social charges, which can top 40 percent of their paychecks to cover health care, unemployment insurance and other services.

“It’s a big difference with movements such as the Tea Party in the United States,” Mr. Spire said, because the French want government involvement. “The French are very attached to their model of social protection and they are also very attached to government services.”

For those living outside of cities, it is hard to feel they are getting their money’s worth. Unemployment has remained stubbornly high at nearly 10 percent. Rural hospitals have closed, making it more difficult for those in need to access health care despite the country’s universal health insurance. Mayor's budgets are shrinking in some localities, which means city hall might be open for fewer hours or the administrative jobs that used to be done there have moved to another town. That means more driving for those left without services.

Over the past few days the government has become increasingly alarmed by the movement. Though it began last May with a online petition about gas prices, it gained traction in October when a call went out for a national demonstration to block key roads in an effort to get the government’s attention.

With no central organization or coordination, the movement came together almost entirely on social media.

“It is a very large front that brings together people who angry about different things, and it is drawn from a number of different segments of French society that has coalesced around outrage about taxes and the increase in gas prices,” said Jérôme Fourquet, the head of opinion polling for IFOP, a leading public opinion research firm.

IFOP surveys recently found that about a third of French people are “very dependent” on their car in their daily lives and another third “somewhat dependent,” so the price of gas has become a key element in the majority of French citizens’ budgets.

“The price of fuel is as politically and sociologically sensitive as the price of wheat in the ancient regime,” said Mr. Fourquet, referring to the 18th century when it was in part revolts over the price of flour that led to the French Revolution.

The government, recognizing in recent days that the movement was snowballing, has offered an array of benefits for low income earners. They include subsidies for switching to more fuel efficient cars, subsidies for gas purchases and rebates for changing to clean fuel for home heating.

So far, those offers have done little to calm the anger.

While some protesters said they would spend the night pulled off the road and return to their positions in the morning, there were relatively few planning to stay overnight. More likely is that the protests will be renewed in the coming days, as the government is unlikely to reduce fuel taxes.

The caravan of about 100 cars that Mr. Lacombe joined blocked gas stations and lanes on main highways, and remained in place all day near the outskirts of Éragny. By midafternoon another 150 to 200 cars had joined them, in the small community, built in the 1960s, made up mostly of small one-family homes.

The other members of that group said they were politically in the center; some had voted for President Emanuel Macron in the last election and were now disillusioned; others supported center-right candidates.

Many were self employed, like Muriel Gautherin, 52, a chiropodist who lives in a suburban town near Éragny.

“We are simple citizens whose anger is simmering, simmering,” Ms. Gautherin said, pulling her red beanie cap over her ears to ward off the morning chill. “Among us are the retired people who feel they were fooled, the youth whose future is so uncertain and all those who feel like politicians are showing no respect for their struggles.”

Elian Peltier contributed reporting.

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Merkel protégé eyes female quota for lawmakers, takes aim at dual citizenship

BERLIN (Reuters) – Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leading polls to succeed Angela Merkel as head of Germany’s Christian Democrats, said she would consider legislation to ensure better representation of women in parliament, unless her party changed its approach.

A new poll conducted for public broadcaster ARD showed 46 percent of CDU supporters backed Kramp-Karrenbauer for the post, compared to 31 percent for businessman Friedrich Merz and 12 percent for Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Among women, support for Merz dropped to around half the level achieved by Kramp-Karrenbauer, ARD said.

The number of women CDU lawmakers fell in the 2017 elections to one-fifth of the party’s parliamentarians, and better representation of women is essential to shore up the party’s support in future elections, Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

She told broadcaster Suedwestrundfunk (SWR) that many in the party had failed to take seriously a 1996 CDU rule reserving a third of party list candidates for women and said she would try to enforce the rule if elected leader.

She said she would also consider legal measures to ensure better representation of women in Germany’s parliament.

New legislation to adopt a female quota was “a last resort”, she said. “But it would be naive to think we can just let the issue run its course.”

In another interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Kramp-Karrenbauer also took aim at dual citizenship rules, accusing Turkey’s leadership of trying to split the loyalties of German-Turkish dual nationals living in Germany.

“If that continues, then dual citizenship is missing its sense and purpose, and we must talk about how we end this system,” she said.

The former premier of the western state of Saarland, said she supported a plan under which the children of immigrants received a second passport, but their children would not.

The CDU voted in 2016 to end dual citizenship, but Chancellor Merkel subsequently said she did not feel bound by the vote.

Merkel, now in her fourth term, has said she will step down as leader of her Christian Democrats, but plans to remain chancellor through 2021.

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Xi and Pence Stake Out Trade Positions in Dueling Speeches at Pacific Rim Forum

SYDNEY, Australia — President Xi Jinping of China and Vice President Mike Pence pushed back against criticism of each of their countries’ trade practices in speeches on Saturday at an Asia-Pacific trade summit meeting in Papua New Guinea, while seeking to assure allies of their commitment to the region.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Pence spoke ahead of what is likely to be a tense meeting between President Trump and the Chinese leader at the Group of 20 conference in Argentina later this month, where they will attempt to defuse a trade war.

The Trump administration has accused China of unfair trade practices, including restricting market access, pushing American companies to hand over valuable technology and engaging in cyberespionage and intellectual property theft. It has put tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods; China has retaliated with tariffs of its own.

Mr. Pence, echoing warnings from Mr. Trump, said the United States could “more than double” the tariffs it had placed on $250 billion in Chinese goods.

“The United States, though, will not change course until China changes its ways,” Mr. Pence said.

China has offered a list of concessions in recent days, which Mr. Trump has called “not acceptable.”

Mr. Pence and Mr. Xi spoke at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. The 21 Pacific Rim countries and territories participating in the APEC forum account for 60 percent of the global economy.

Mr. Pence, appearing in Mr. Trump’s place, reiterated recent criticism of China’s geopolitical strategies and attacked the country’s “belt and road” initiative, an enormous infrastructure plan financed by China that spans some 70 countries.

He urged Asian nations to avoid investment offers from China and to choose instead a “better option” — working with the United States — which, he said, would not saddle them with debt, a quandary some countries are facing as a result of their partnerships with Beijing.

“Let me say to all the nations across this wider region, and the world: Do not accept foreign debt that could compromise your sovereignty,” Mr. Pence said.

“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt,” he added. “We don’t coerce or compromise your independence. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road. When you partner with us, we partner with you, and we all prosper.”

Mr. Xi, perhaps anticipating the criticism, spoke before Mr. Pence and disputed the notion that accepting Chinese investment as part of the initiative called “One Belt, One Road” would compromise a nation’s sovereignty.

The initiative “is not for geopolitical purposes; it will exclude no one; it will not close a door and create a small circle,” Mr. Xi said. “It is not the so-called trap, as some people say. It is the sunshine avenue where China shares opportunities with the world to seek common development.”

Mr. Xi sought to paint China as continually opening its markets to the world.

“China will continue to significantly relax market access, strengthen intellectual property protection and actively expand imports,” he said. Since the beginning of this year, Mr. Xi said, China has “significantly” reduced import tariffs on 1,449 consumer goods, 1,585 industrial products and vehicles and components.

He described the trade dispute as a choice between “win-win progress or a zero sum game.”

“Mankind has once again reached a crossroads,” Mr. Xi said. “Which direction should we choose? Cooperation or confrontation? Openness or closing doors?”

Mr. Pence and Mr. Xi may have been sending mixed messages with their speeches, said Brendan Taylor, an associate professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University.

“The extent to which Mr. Xi tried to reassure the region that he didn’t have any geopolitical ambitions — I don’t think that’s particularly convincing,” Mr. Taylor said.

He described Mr. Pence’s speech as having a “very strong ‘America First’ tone,” adding, “There’s quite a big gap between his rhetoric and what’s actually happening in the region.”

Other nations in the region were hedging their bets, he said. “The moves those countries are making relate to their uncertainties about the U.S. and the Trump strategy or lack thereof,” Mr. Taylor said.

On Friday, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia in the northern Australian port city of Darwin, the first time a Japanese leader has visited the city, which was pummeled by Japanese air raids in World War II.

The two leaders discussed economic cooperation and the possibility of the Japanese military participating in training exercises in Darwin, where about 2,000 American Marines rotate through each year.

In his speech on Saturday, Mr. Pence lauded the economic and military cooperation between the United States and its Asia-Pacific allies, and he warned China that American ships and jets would sail and fly anywhere allowed by international law.

Chinese military forces have confronted American and other foreign navies and aircraft that have entered waters in the South China Sea that China claims as its own.

“The United States of America will continue to uphold the freedom of the seas and the skies, which are so essential to our prosperity,” Mr. Pence said.

He said the United States would support efforts “to adopt a meaningful and binding code of conduct that respects the rights of all nations, including the freedom of navigation, in the South China Sea.”

He also announced that the United States would participate in an Australian-Papua New Guinea initiative to develop a naval base on Manus Island in the Bismarck Sea, in northern Papua New Guinea.

Australia and Papua New Guinea announced last month that they would upgrade a base in Lombrum, a port on Manus Island that has a strategically vital position overlooking key trade routes.

Luz Ding contributed reporting from Beijing.

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Evangelicals, Looking to 2020, Face the Limits of Their Base

WASHINGTON — After Democrats delivered a resounding counterpunch to President Trump at the polls, one of his most reliable voting blocs — social conservatives — now faces the repercussions of its uncompromising support for Mr. Trump’s agenda.

That result is mixed: Social conservatives are celebrating a slightly expanded Republican majority in the Senate, which advances their top priority, confirming conservative judges, as well as their anti-abortion rights agenda. But steep Republican losses in the House, particularly in suburban areas, have some strategists reflecting on how to proceed as they pivot their efforts to re-electing Mr. Trump in 2020.

“Social conservatives need to maximize turnout from the base and expand the map by stressing the softer side of the faith agenda: education reform, immigration and criminal justice reform, and anti-poverty measures,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which has extensive outreach to conservative evangelicals in battlegrounds across the country.

“This will help with suburban women, millennials and minorities,” he said.

That approach, if followed, would be a stark departure from the issues social conservatives have championed since they wed themselves to Mr. Trump as a candidate. The Republicans’ white, religiously conservative base has motivated its troops for Mr. Trump around opposition to abortion rights, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and support for Israel.

This cycle, that strategy largely worked on the Senate level, but was not enough to stem Republican losses in congressional districts, particularly in suburban areas.

[Read about how gains in the Senate heartened social conservatives]

Any meaningful shift is purely conceptual at this point. White evangelicals, more than almost any other constituency, have repeatedly chosen to support Mr. Trump wholeheartedly to advance their cultural priorities, despite occasionally bristling at his character and approach to race, immigration and women.

When the administration separated immigrant children from their families at the border, for example, some white evangelical leaders voiced concern but did not fault Mr. Trump, even as some women in their ranks expressed more discontent.

In this month’s election, three-quarters of white evangelical voters again supported House Republican candidates, on par with the percentage that did so in the previous two midterm cycles, according to national exit polls.

In a divided Congress, social conservatives have little hope of advancing their legislative priorities, like ending Planned Parenthood funding or banning abortion after 20 weeks. But many are instead emphasizing their success at the judicial level and seem only minimally interested in adjusting their focus.

“If you ask social conservative voters, would you be willing to accept Nancy Pelosi as speaker for two more Supreme Court justices, I suspect they would make that trade,” said Dan Schnur, a former longtime Republican strategist who is now an Independent. “A short-term congressional loss for social conservatives is almost certainly offset by a long-term judicial gain.”

In today’s polarized political environment, reaching out to the middle is also not as effective as playing to one’s base, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian activist group.

“Very few people anymore are in the middle,” he said. “Barack Obama brought us to this point more quickly because of the extreme policies that he pushed. Trump, with the support of evangelicals, has worked to move the pendulum back.”

Asked about dissatisfaction among some women, young people and nonwhite voters who could continue to erode the edges of the evangelical base, Mr. Perkins said he was not worried. “I’m not saying there’s not a need to pay attention to that, but it’s not like that is going to be the deciding factor,” he said.

Even though some of the places where Republicans lost, including in Arizona, Nevada and areas of the Midwest, are not traditional social conservative strongholds, some on the religious right do not see Democratic pickups as long term.

For Mr. Perkins, Martha McSally lost her Senate race in Arizona, for example, because she was not conservative enough and the base did not see her as a champion for its causes.

In Florida, where a dramatic recount is playing out in the Senate race, white evangelicals increased their share of the electorate, from 21 percent in 2016 to 29 percent this year, according to exit polls, and their share also increased in Missouri and Indiana, though by smaller amounts.

In Iowa, where Democrats unseated two Republican representatives, Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, a conservative evangelical group based in the state, praised evangelicals for showing up “in force” for the races that mattered most. Republicans kept control of the governorship and the statehouse, he pointed out, enabling them to advance anti-abortion policies locally.

“We wanted to ensure that the sanctity of life was positioned to win,” he said, noting that his group focuses on state-level races.

But Mr. Vander Plaats also said it might be important to learn from the signals voters sent to Washington of dissatisfaction over Mr. Trump’s tone and the country’s divisiveness, even as they want to continue his policies.

“If we are going to be successful in 2020, we are going to have to thread that needle,” he said.

In Mississippi, where Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican, faces a runoff, the social conservative voter mobilization effort is largely absent, a sign they are confident the G.O.P. will hold the seat.

Though sizable, social conservatives are just one part of the Republican base; for others, this election is a reminder that their party’s future, and its internal fractures, remains in question as Mr. Trump and his base continue to redefine the G.O.P.

Social conservatives need to prioritize legislation that appeals to the entirety of the party, not just to special segments, said Sarah Chamberlain, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of congressional members who stand for conservative economic and national security policy. Several of the group’s members, including Representatives Jeff Denham, Carlos Curbelo and Steve Knight, lost competitive races last week.

“We hope they would join us in realizing this is how we get back into the majority in the House,” she said of social conservatives. “We cannot afford to lose suburban areas.”

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To Gauge Concerns About Brexit, Look at British Bonds

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The British pound is the most sensitive barometer of Brexit fears. The currency slumps each time it looks more likely that Britain may crash out of the European Union without a deal. At the same time, however, British government bond prices strengthen because bleak economic prospects mean higher interest rates are less likely. The clearest sign that investors have had enough of the United Kingdom would be when both weaken at the same time.

Britain’s currency and its government bonds, known as gilts, have tended to react to political turmoil by moving in opposite directions. The pound fell nearly 2 percent against the dollar and euro on Thursday after a string of cabinet resignations cast doubt on the future of Prime Minister Theresa May and her draft Brexit deal. But even as the pound suffered its worst day since Oct. 2016, gilts rallied. The yield, which drops when prices rise, on 10-year UK government bonds fell more than 10 basis points, to as low as 1.35 percent.

Even more telling was that British sovereign debt performed better than German and American alternatives. That would not have been the case if investors had become wary of Britain altogether. The gap between the yield on gilts and German bonds narrowed by roughly 10 basis points on Thursday. Meanwhile 10-year United States government bonds yielded as much as 174 basis points more than comparable gilts — the widest difference since 1984.

Like currency traders, bond investors think that the British economy would be damaged by a chaotic no-deal Brexit. But they believe this would force the Bank of England governor Mark J. Carney to defer further interest rate rises, which is typically good for debt prices. That investors can still apply normal bond logic shows that they are not yet panicky.

It would take a full-blown pound crisis for the British central bank to respond by raising rates, ignoring the temporary slump in the pound as it did after the 2016 Brexit referendum. If bond investors believed that was likely, they would be as keen to ditch gilts as currency traders are to sell pounds.

For now, however, Britain’s political crisis has yet to become a financial one.

Swaha Pattanaik is global economics editor of Reuters Breakingviews. For more independent commentary and analysis, visit breakingviews.com

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Brexit for the Non-Brit: What Is It, and Why Can’t They Get It Done?

LONDON — After years of delays, stumbles and intermittent negotiations, Prime Minister Theresa May this week finally presented a draft plan for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union — and it has been roundly and loudly panned. Her government is teetering on the verge of collapse.

Supporters of Brexit had promised that leaving the European bloc would be quick and simple. But it has turned out to be the opposite. To understand why, it helps to understand the origins of Brexit, and how that history is playing out today.

What Is Brexit?

Britain joined the forerunner of the European Union in 1973, but British politicians have always been ambivalent about the bloc. The issue has long divided both of the country’s major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, and it became especially divisive among the Conservatives. Finally, in June 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron decided to settle the question by putting it to a yes-or-no national referendum.

Mr. Cameron bet that the country would not take the risk of leaving the European Union. He was wrong. Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave.

Britons awoke the morning after the referendum to a predicament: The campaign to quit the bloc had promised to “take back control” from Europe, but it never spelled out how. The embittered Remainers who lost the vote quickly accused the Leavers of lies and xenophobia.

Politically, Britain has spent the past two-plus years in a political stalemate. Labour settled into an uneasy opposition, and the Conservatives struggled with continuing divisions over Europe. Mrs. May replaced Mr. Cameron and was charged with negotiating a Brexit deal with the European Union.

But her biggest challenge was building support at home. One pro-Brexit faction has championed a clean break, so Britain would regain sovereignty over trade and immigration, while breaking free of the European Union’s institutions, including its Court of Justice, a particular concern for them.

Others preferred to maintain close economic ties with the bloc, even if that meant ceding or sharing some control over these matters with the European Union.

With Britain scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29, Mrs. May has been trying to broker a compromise between the two sides to avoid a chaotic “cliff edge” withdrawal that could leave ports blocked, airlines grounded, and food and drugs running short. That was the draft she presented on Wednesday.

Why Is a Compromise So Elusive?

The Achilles’ heel of the entire process of Brexit is the border between Ireland, a member of the European Union, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. For years, this border was militarized and a focal point of The Troubles, the sectarian violence that left more than 3,500 people dead. But the militarized border was removed after the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, and trade was allowed to flow freely between both sides.

This was possible because Ireland and the United Kingdom were members of the European Union. But when Britain voted to leave, the Irish border again became an issue. The possibility of having to reintroduce border controls posed myriad economic, political and historical problems.

To solve the problem, Mrs. May’s draft agreement proposes keeping Northern Ireland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, in a European customs union, potentially indefinitely, or until a final trade agreement is completed. But this means that Britain would also still be subject to some of the bloc’s trading rules and regulations.

In short, while paying a $50 billion divorce bill, Britain would be bound by many European Union rules for the foreseeable future without any say in the making of them. It would also be subject to some extent to the European Court of Justice.

This infuriates the hard-line Brexit crowd, who say it would leave Britain as a “vassal state.”

But they aren’t the only ones offended by this arrangement. The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, which provides a crucial 10 seats to prop up Mrs. May’s minority government, is also up in arms.

That is because the plan would impose more European rules on Northern Ireland than on the rest of the United Kingdom. The D.U.P., which wants above to remain in the United Kingdom, sees the draft agreement as an existential threat that would place a new border in the Irish Sea, effectively putting Northern Ireland in a de facto union with Ireland.

And don’t forget Scotland, which wants very much to remain in the European Union and is wondering why it cannot have the same deal as the one the D.U.P. so hates.

So What Happens Now?

No one really knows. If all goes well for Mrs. May over the next few weeks — and that is far from assured — then European Union leaders will complete the deal at a summit meeting later this month. It would then need the approval of the British and European Parliaments. But the route to that outcome is treacherous, to say the least.

Mrs. May is currently fighting for her political life amid a big Brexit backlash in Parliament and calls within her Conservative Party for a no-confidence vote in her leadership. And few experts think the British Parliament will approve the draft plan in its current form.

The opposition Labour Party has made clear it will instruct its lawmakers to vote against, hoping to secure a general election. The Scottish National Party and the centrist Liberal Democrats are likely to do the same. And there is the problem for Mrs. May of the D.U.P.

On Thursday it became clear that even Conservatives who campaigned to remain in the European Union were planning to vote against the draft agreement, hoping that the resulting crisis could mean a softer Brexit, or even no Brexit at all.

If the plan were to be rejected, Parliament could ask the prime minister — or her successor, if she should step down — to go back and negotiate another deal, though the European Union is highly unlikely to oblige. And time is running out before the March 29 deadline.

There could be a general election, or Britain could face the cliff edge departure so feared by business.

There is even talk that in the chaos that would presumably accompany a parliamentary rejection of the agreement, the oft-heard pleas for a second referendum on Brexit might finally gain traction.

But, for now, your guess about the outcome is as good as anyone else’s.

Follow Stephen Castle on Twitter: @_StephenCastle.

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Opinion | Woozy With Moderation

I was late for breakfast with Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper. We were in Manhattan, on the same September day that President Trump gave a speech at the United Nations, the one where the delegates laughed out loud at him. By the time I reached Madison Avenue, I found the street entirely blocked off by police barriers.

“How do I get from here to there?” I asked a cop. I thought it was a reasonable question.

“You don’t,” he replied, summing up the Trump era in a single phrase.

So I stood there, along with a score of other New Yorkers, waiting for Mr. Trump to pass. At last his motorcade appeared, and as it did, people on both sides of the street spontaneously raised their arms and flipped our chief executive the bird.

As the barricades fell and I rushed to meet Mr. Hickenlooper, I wondered if the governor — on the cusp of a possible run for president — could also inspire such passions.

Governor Hickenlooper, an optimistic, pro-business, pragmatic centrist, might seem, at first, like a long shot for the Democratic nomination. But then, in considering a post-Trump era, it is hard to imagine anything.

He and I had been aspiring to a conversation for years now, as part of a tiny cohort of people (about 15 since 1970) who attended the same high school and the same college — the Haverford School, in Pennsylvania, and Wesleyan University, in Connecticut. Six years apart, we did not know each other when we were young. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve sometimes wondered: To what extent are we — a brewery owner turned governor and an English teacher turned transgender activist — the result of the educations we received?

It’s hard to imagine two more different institutions: Haverford in the 1970s being a rigid, all-male (sic) finishing school; the selective, coed Wesleyan being an unapologetically progressive campus, where Mr. Hickenlooper was nurtured by the author Paul Horgan and I worked with the poet and novelist Franklin D. Reeve.

We both arrived at Haverford feeling uncertain, self-conscious. We both left Wesleyan with a sense of purpose.

Mr. Hickenlooper hasn’t completely lost his sense of shyness (in spite of doing things like playing banjo on stage with the String Cheese Incident), although now it reads as modesty. “I’m a total extrovert,” he told me over coffee. “I get energy from talking to people. And so not to have confidence, to be shy, and at the same time be an extrovert, is cruel.”

Haverford helped, a little. It was getting to play sports, he said, that first gave him some confidence, even though his dyslexia made the classroom difficult. (This was the exact opposite of my own experience, where I loved learning Latin and German and reading Thomas Mann, but found sports in general, and the locker room in particular, an endless mortification.)

Wesleyan helped, too. Like me, Mr. Hickenlooper majored in English. But it was a final semester course in geology that changed his life: “I took six pages of notes, more notes than I had ever taken in any English class, and just became enraptured. That’s when I really came alive.” After graduation, he returned for an extra year as a special student. “I took calculus and chemistry and physics — all that stuff I’d never done before but I was really good at,” he said. “I just kind of discovered a new part of myself. And that was my road to self-confidence.”

That road would lead to working for a petroleum company in Colorado, and after that, to opening a brewery in Denver. He became the city’s mayor, and in 2011, the governor.

It’s been a long time since anyone spoke about “the politics of joy” in America, a phrase once associated with Vice President Hubert Humphrey. But there’s a gentle ebullience to Mr. Hickenlooper. “There’s a word called topophilia,” he said. “It means love of place. Isn’t that a form of joy, a sense of belonging? Isn’t it one of the ingredients that creates a happy, fulfilled life — loving where you are? Well, part of that is knowing where you are, knowing the wonderfulness of your history.”



Mr. Hickenlooper isn’t Humphrey — his socially liberal, fiscally conservative positions are more Bill Clinton than H.H.H. If he has a particular genius, it seems to be in the ability to find middle ground. “I guess I’m a centrist?” he once said. “A moderate? I like politics, but I’m kind of apartisan.”

His vision for education in America reflects his pragmatism. In February he helped start a project called the Skillful State Network, a bipartisan collaboration with 20 other governors intended to transform the American labor market. It aims to help workers gain the skills they need to get good jobs in the digital economy and to help employers find those workers.

What’s the ultimate goal? I asked. “We want to create joy, to a certain extent,” he said, smiling. “But quality of life starts with a good job.”

I took my leave of the governor and headed out into the New York morning, my head woozy with moderation. True, he hadn’t left me with the same sense of wonder I’d felt after being in a room for the first time with Barack Obama. But I was left with something else: a generousness of spirit, a sense of humor. Is that enough to carry John Hickenlooper all the way to the White House?

It might be.

As I headed west, I saw that the barricades erected for the passing of Donald Trump had been dismantled. Two hours earlier, I’d stood there with New Yorkers, our progress impeded.

But now President Trump was gone, and nothing barred the way.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Jennifer Finney Boylan, a contributing opinion writer, is a professor of English at Barnard College and the author of the novel “Long Black Veil.” @JennyBoylan

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Hariri accuses Hezbollah of blocking Lebanon government formation

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Saad Hariri has been trying to put together a cabinet for six months now.

    Six months after Saad Hariri was designated to continue as Lebanon’s prime minister, he is still unable to form a government.

    Hariri has accused Hezbollah of obstructing the formation of government by demanding a seat for a Sunni ally.

    Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reports from Beirut.

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    A Week After the Election, Democratic Gains Grow Stronger

    The 2018 midterm election looked last Tuesday like a serious but not crippling setback for Republicans, with Democrats making significant gains in congressional races but failing to deliver a comprehensive defeat to President Trump and his party.

    The picture for Republicans has gotten grimmer since then, as a more complete tally of votes has come in across the country.

    What looked at first like a modest Democratic majority in the House has grown into a stronger one: The party has gained 32 seats so far and appears on track to gain between 35 and 40 once all the counting is complete.

    And Democratic losses in the Senate look less serious than they did a week ago, after Kyrsten Sinema was declared the winner in Arizona on Monday. It now looks like the party is likely to lose a net of one or two seats, rather than three or four as they feared last Tuesday.

    The underlying shifts in the electorate suggest President Trump may have to walk a precarious path to re-election in 2020, as several Midwestern states he won in 2016 threaten to slip away, and once-red states in the Southwest turn a purpler hue. The president’s strategy of sewing racial division and stoking alarm about immigration failed to lift his party, and Democratic messaging about health care undercut the benefit Republicans hoped to gain from a strong economy.

    David Winston, a Republican pollster who advises congressional leaders, said his party should not use victories in the Senate to paper over severe losses with women, young people, independent voters and Latino voters, and Democratic gains with suburbanites and seniors.

    “We didn’t lose the Senate, but losing by the margins that we did with a lot of these groups is unsustainable,” Mr. Winston said.

    There are warning signs for Democrats, too: Mr. Trump’s party remains ascendant in rural America, giving Republicans a durable advantage in the Senate, where less-populous states have influence greatly disproportionate to their voting numbers. If Democrats cannot cut into Republicans’ strength in areas far from major cities, they may struggle mightily to take back the upper chamber in 2020.

    And Republicans demonstrated a tenacious hold on two of the country’s biggest swing states, Ohio and Florida, giving Mr. Trump an important foothold on the presidential map.

    Midterms are imperfect guideposts for presidential elections: In 2010, Democrats were defeated across Midwestern swing states and Florida and lost control of the House, only to prevail convincingly in the presidential race two years later. But for now, the big picture of the 2018 midterms is of a country in political flux, changing primarily to Mr. Trump’s disadvantage.

    Straddling Clinton and Trump districts

    At the start of the 2018 election, the shortest path to a Democratic House majority appeared to run through Republican-held districts where Hillary Clinton won more votes than Mr. Trump in 2016. Democrats did exceedingly well in those districts and may ultimately capture about 20 of them, chiefly in suburban areas of states like California, Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

    But just as important to the Democratic takeover were at least 17 districts where Mr. Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton, and where voters elected a Democratic member of Congress last week. These seats make up about half of the Democrats’ House gains, allowing them to achieve not just the 23-seat gain they needed for a bare majority but to win control by a comfortable margin.

    By winning a broader array of districts, beyond just Clinton-voting seats, Democrats proved that they could build a stronger coalition than they did in 2016 and chip away at the margins of Mr. Trump’s electoral base.

    Still, Democrats made few inroads into solidly conservative districts. The Trump-voting seats they won were predominantly in the suburbs and exurbs, with enough moderate and college-educated voters to offset Republicans’ strength in the districts’ rural precincts. Democrats may also have a tougher time winning some of these districts in a presidential year, when voter turnout is even higher and partisan polarization can make it even harder for politicians to win on the opposing camp’s traditional turf.

    In some cases, the districts themselves were starkly divided: In a conservative-leaning district outside Richmond, Va., Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat, ousted Representative Dave Brat on the strength of suburban voters despite losing the district’s less densely settled stretches. In a rural New Mexico district that voted strongly for Mr. Trump, Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, won an open seat despite losing many of its far-flung counties, because she assembled muscular support in the outer suburbs of Albuquerque and the area around Las Cruces, the state’s second-largest city.

    The Sun Belt is looking purple

    The texture of the midterm results has changed most starkly over the last week in the West, as slow-counting states like Arizona and California have tallied their ballots. Democrats have captured Republican-held Senate seats in Nevada and Arizona, partially offsetting their losses in the heavily white, conservative states where Republicans unseated Democratic senators.

    And in California, what looked like a night of incremental Democratic gains has turned into a slow-motion rout for the G.O.P. Republicans are on track to lose between four and seven seats there, chiefly in the suburbs of Southern California, where even Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a 30-year incumbent, went down in defeat.

    Further down the ballot, there were signs of Democratic gains in historically Republican parts of the Southwest: In Arizona, where Republicans have dominated state politics, Democrats also captured the office of education superintendent, and a second important statewide election — for secretary of state — was still too close to call a week into the count. In Nevada, where Democrats had not won a governor’s race since 1994, they captured the governorship and every other statewide office.

    In Texas, Democrats gained at least a dozen seats in the Statehouse and, despite partisan gerrymandering, picked up two congressional seats. Five Republican congressional candidates there who were strongly favored to win ultimately prevailed with less than 52 percent of the vote.

    Texas and Arizona are unlikely to be blue states anytime soon, but after years of tilting at the Southwest with little to show for it, Democrats saw real signs that the region is becoming a battleground.

    Grant Woods, a former Republican state attorney general in Arizona who recently registered as a Democrat, said Mr. Trump and the Republican Party had moved too far right for voters in the Southwest. Mr. Woods, who is considering a run for Senate in 2020, said the midterm results were encouraging.

    “The extremism of the current Republican Party is a losing strategy for the future,” Mr. Woods said. “In the Southwest in particular, where we’re talking about a diverse population and, increasingly, a younger population, people just aren’t going to put up with it.”

    A rift in the Midwest

    The best news of the night for Mr. Trump may have been his party’s triumph in Ohio. Republicans won the governorship there, along with every partisan statewide election, save one: the Senate race, in which Sherrod Brown, a populist Democrat, was elected to a third term. Historically a swing state, Ohio has been trending steadily toward Republicans and appears fairly secure in Mr. Trump’s column at the start of the 2020 campaign.

    Two other conservative-leaning states in the Midwest, Indiana and Iowa, showed similar allegiance to the G.O.P., though Democrats picked up a pair of House seats in Iowa.

    Jon Husted, a Republican former speaker of the Ohio House who was elected lieutenant governor, said Democrats in the state were not strong enough in the cities to overcome Republicans’ popularity with rural voters.

    “What margins they do run up, we’re able to more than make up in the rural counties,” Mr. Husted said.

    Other Midwestern swing states, however, were a mirror image of Ohio, with Democrats achieving sweeping wins across Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Two years after Mr. Trump won upset victories in three of those states and came close to capturing the fourth — Minnesota — Democrats won every partisan statewide office on the ballot in all of them; they even ousted Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and elected Representative Keith Ellison, an activist liberal who faced accusations of domestic abuse, to the office of attorney general in Minnesota.

    The division in the Midwest — between more urban, diverse states and more rural, agricultural states — presents challenges for both parties. Democrats will have a narrower path to the presidency nationwide as long as Ohio leans red. But the peril may be greater for Mr. Trump, who could have difficulty in 2020 replicating the regional sweep that made him president in the first place.

    Gerrymandering mattered — a lot

    Republican losses in the House were not nearly as steep as they might have been without the help of favorably drawn congressional districts. Even as Democrats gained at least 32 seats and won a clear majority of the popular vote, they failed to capture even a single seat in three big states with aggressively gerrymandered lines: Ohio, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

    In two other big, gerrymandered states, Democrats gained seats — but only a few. They took two Republican-held seats each in Texas and Michigan, but came painfully close in more than half a dozen others where partisan maps insulated Republicans from voters’ anger.

    Without the maps on their side, it is easy to imagine Republicans having lost more than 50 House seats. And in states with more neutral maps, Democrats fared far better.

    Most illustrative may have been Pennsylvania, where in January a state court struck down the congressional district lines and ordered them redrawn. At the start of the last Congress, under a gerrymandered map, Republicans held 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 House seats. After the redraw and the election, the House delegation will be split evenly — nine seats for each party.

    In most states, Republicans are likely to benefit from these maps again in 2020, but that may be the last time the lines are engineered so helpfully. With the inauguration of Democratic governors in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, Republicans will not have a free hand in redistricting after the 2020 census.

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